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Developers blamed for Dublin transport crisis

Homeowners who bought in less populated areas forced to commute by car into the city, writes Gabrielle Monaghan

20 July 2011

POOR planning that allowed boom-time developers to build cheap houses and apartments in less populated parts of Dublin has left young homeowners with little access to public transport, a study by Trinity College and New York University has found.
Almost one in four homes built in Dublin city and county between 2001 and 2006 had no nearby bus stop, while 80% were built in areas with no rail links, according to the study, published in Energies, an international journal. Half of all homes were built in areas with low population, making the provision of public transport difficult.
Brian Caulfield, a Trinity lecturer and one of the authors said: “Since then, there has been no new public transport, apart from an extension of the Luas, and there has been curtailment of existing services. So driving to work is often the best option for people living in any of the newer housing stock around the periphery of the city.”
Almost one in three homes constructed in the five years to 2006 were in areas with fewer than 1,000 housing units for every square kilometre. The researchers attribute some of the blame to local authorities rezoning agricultural land for developers.
One in six of Dublin’s existing homes, or 76,828 houses and apartments, were built between 2001 and 2006. Most of these newer houses are occupied by people under the age of 34.
Typical is Ronan Fennell, 31, who bought a four-bedroom house in the Barnwell Hansfield estate near Ongar. What helped convince him to make the purchase was Manor Park, a developer, advertising in its brochure that Hansfield would have its own train station by 2010. Irish Rail did build Hansfield station, but it never opened, and Fennell now has to spend an hour driving 11 miles into the city centre. A bus journey would take 80 minutes.
Fennell can see trains passing the 10m railway station from his home, but they do not stop at Hansfield because there is no access road to the station. Following a protest at the station last weekend Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, said he brokered an agreement that involves Manor Park and Menolly Homes, another developer, contributing to the construction of an access road.
“The builders are holding it up because they haven’t sold enough houses,” said Fennell. “We bought here because the price was reasonable. Now the estate is unfinished, and the developer has fenced off foundations they built for apartments. It’s depressing.”
Home-buyers who fled overpriced property prices in the city in favour of relatively affordable property on the outskirts of Dublin are increasingly reliant on cars to get to work. The proportion of commuter trips made by car jumped from 47% to 52% in the 10 years to 2006, helping to push up carbon-dioxide emissions by 170% between 1990 and 2006, the report showed.
By 2006, 53% of Dublin residents were using a car to get to work, with 14% travelling by bus and just 7% using a rail line. Drivers’ average commute was 31 minutes, while bus and rail users took 43 minutes and 45 minutes respectively.
“Despite the fact we were swimming in money, we never bothered to put proper infrastructure in,” said Mark Gleeson from Rail Users Ireland. “Now areas like Fingal and Blanchardstown have a transport deficit.
“People are now living in sprawled-out places and have to drive to get anywhere [leading to] a breakdown in social cohesion because by the time people have got up at 6am, dropped their children to a crèche and picked them up at 8pm, they only have enough energy left to flop into bed.”
Instead of policymakers using the boom as an opportunity to integrate public transport with development, local authorities felt free to rezone land for development in order to boost income from development levies, the researchers said.
“Given the recent vintage of much of the housing, policymakers should [examine] the mistakes and investigate ways to reverse the backward steps,” they said, suggesting the government end Dublin Bus’s monopoly and allow private buses to serve routes.
Dublin Bus has been changing routes in the city since last September as part of its Network Direct project. Last month a Save Our Bus Services campaign staged protests outside its headquarters on O’Connell Street and handed in a petition opposing proposals to scrap 200 services across the capital.
Bríd Smith, a councillor who was involved in the campaign, said: “There are swathes of developments in south county Dublin where bus services are so infrequent it’s appalling.”

Sunday Times Article 3.7.11

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